But the presidency has been called “the greased pig of American politics,” and there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. So Hillary Clinton’s coronation could be derailed faster than I can sling metaphors. (Five in the last two sentences, if you’re counting.)
Her candidacy’s vulnerability is that she doesn’t really stand for anything, apart from the novelty of being a woman. That was trumped in 2008 by the novelty of a black man. But by now we’ve had so long to get used to the idea of a woman president that we can just as well move on without actually electing her.
And the woman thing could be neutralized this time by Elizabeth Warren – many Democrats would prefer a woman who does stand for something.* Remember, this is party primaries, dominated by activists. Warren’s populism, and bashing their favorite bogeymen, make them swoon as boring old Hillary cannot. She’s also cuter.
And if Warren fails to grasp her opportunity, how about Bill de Blasio? He’s built his political ethos on a single word – using it like some people use the F-word in every sentence – “effin’ this and effin’ that” – for de Blasio the word is “progressive.” Apparently just mouthing the word diddles the erogenous zones of lefty voters. Why not try that shtick in presidential primaries? (Bill’s a white guy, but his wife’s a black ex-lesbian. And a last name beginning with a lower case letter – that’s sure a novelty.)
Remember, it’s not about qualifications, and not about issues, it’s about atmospherics. Obama didn’t beat Hillary in ’08 because his healthcare plan was better. (She favored mandates; he was opposed!) He beat her by thrumming Democrats’ heart-strings, not their dendrites. It was romance, not policy. Cotton candy, not green beans.
Realize that 40-45% of the electorate is locked in to voting for the Democrat, and 40-45% against. Presidential elections are decided by the remaining 10-20% — many of them the least ideological, engaged, or informed. They don’t really know Paul or Rubio or the others, haven’t formed solid views of them. Effectively, these candidates can write on a blank slate, and create a persona in the minds of impressionable swing voters. And for those, even more than for the activist partisans, it’s atmospherics rather than issues that count most.
But I do think there is a role for issues. Issues can shape atmospherics. And I believe a Republican can win the next election through unpopular issue stands.
Let me explain.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said Republicans must stop being the “stupid party.” They come across like a bunch of frat boys. But a Republican can defeat Hillary by rising above Hillary. By making her seem just another typical tired old pol, the type of politician who has gotten us nowhere lately.** The Republican must instead exude gravitas; leadership; vision; statesmanship.
This is where unpopular stands come in. It’s not just a matter of appearing refreshingly “courageous.” It’s acting grown-up, and treating the American people as grown-ups. That means being serious and telling them the truth; telling them taxes must rise, and popular programs must be cut (no, not for the needy; for the coddled affluent). You may say that’s political suicide. I don’t think so. I think Americans are smarter than they’re given credit for, and will know a true leader when they see one.
I keep coming back to Ross Perot in 1992. He ran something like the campaign I envision, showing voters what an unsustainable path we were on. And even though he was a very flawed candidate, with an even more flawed running mate, on a third party, he got a substantial 19% of the vote. Today, of course, the kinds of issues Perot stressed are far more grave.
Today, American politics and government are broken, preventing us from tackling the problems we must face for our future. We have to get out of this cul-de-sac of partisan gridlock. I think many people realize this, even if the zealots responsible for it do not. I see a real market for a presidential candidate who shows he understands the situation, and credibly offers a way out. (Obama had postured as such but unfortunately as president funked it completely). Obviously, Hillary can’t be that candidate either; she’s the total antithesis of that. This is the opening for a non-Hillary.
* I make no comment here on the pros or cons of Warren’s stances.
** Anyone remember John Lindsay’s 1965 NY mayoral slogan? “He’s fresh and everyone else is tired.”